The Honeymooners is one of network television's most beloved
and syndicated series. Although The Honeymooners ran for
only one season as a half-hour situation comedy (during the 1955-56
season on CBS), Jackie Gleason presented the sketch numerous times
during his various variety series. In fact, no premise has been
seen in so many different guises in the history of television--aired
live, film and tape; in black and white and color; as sketch comedy,
situation comedy, and musical. It succeeding on network, syndicated,
and cable television. Whatever the form, audiences have continued
to embrace the loudmouthed bus driver Ralph Kramden, Gleason's most
resonant creation, as an American Everyman, a dreamer whose visions
of upward mobility are constantly thwarted.
The Honeymooners stands in stark contrast to the prosperous
suburban sitcoms of the 1950s. The battling Brooklynites, Kramden
and his sarcastic wife Alice (Audrey Meadows the most well known
of the several impersonations), are trapped on the treadmill of
lower middle class existence. Their spartan apartment is one of
the most minimal and recognizable in television design. A functional
table, a curtainless window, and an antiquated ice box signal their
impoverishment. Most of the comedy revolves around Ralph's schemes
to get-rich quick (e.g. his infomercial for the Handy Housewife
Helper in "Better Living Through TV"). The tempestuous Ralph is
assisted by his friend and upstairs neighbor Ed Norton (agilely
and always played by Art Carney), a dimwitted sewer worker. The
Honeymooners quartet is rounded out by Trixie Norton (most notably
Joyce Randolph), Ed's loyal wife and Alice's best friend. Unlike
most couples in situation comedy, both the Kramdens and the Nortons
were childless and rarely talked about their situation in a baby-booming
introduced The Honeymooners on 5 October 1951 during his
first variety series, Cavalcade of Stars, broadcast live
on the DuMont network. Kramden directly reflects the frustrations
and yearning of Gleason's upbringing; his address at 358 Chauncey
Street, was the star's boyhood address. The Honeymooners
began as a six-minute sketch of marital combat. The battered wife
was realistically played by veteran character actress Pert Kelton.
A cameo was provided by Art Carney as a policeman. Viewers immediately
identified with Ralph and Alice's arguments and further sketches
were written by Harry Crane and Joe Bigelow. Early on, they added
the Nortons; Trixie was first played by Broadway actress Elaine
Stritch. These early drafts were a starkly realistic insight into
the compromises of marriage, a kind of kitchen sink comedy of insult
In September, Gleason and his staff were lured to CBS by William
Paley to star in a big time variety series, again on Saturday night.
Audrey Meadows, who performed with Bob and Ray, replaced Kelton,
suffering from both heart problems and political blacklisting. The
Honeymooner sketches were mostly less than ten minutes during
the first CBS season. During the next two years, the routines grew
increasingly longer, many over thirty minutes. Most were marked
with the familiar catchphrases--Ralph's blustery threats ("One of
these days Pow! Right to the Kisser!") and the assuring reconciliations
with Alice at the end ("Baby, you're the greatest").
For the 1955-56 season, Gleason was given one of the largest contracts
in show business history to produce The Honeymooners as a
standard situation comedy. Gleason formed his production company
and experimented with the Electronicam technology, which enabled
him to film a live show with several cameras, a precursor of three-camera
videotape recording. Gleason filmed two shows a week at the Adelphi
Theatre in New York, performing to over 1,000 spectators. Gleason's
stable of writers felt hemmed in by the regular format, and Gleason
noticed a lack of fresh ideas. When the ratings of The Honeymooners
sitcom plummeted out of the top ten shows (the previous season
The Jackie Gleason Show ranked number two), Gleason decided
to return to the variety format. Gleason later sold these "classic"
thirty-nine films of The Honeymooners to CBS for a million
and a half dollars, and they provided a bonanza for the network
The Honeymooners remained a pivotal sketch during Gleason's
variety show the following season. The writers creating a few new
wrinkles, including a musical trip to Europe that covered ten one-hour
installments. When Carney left the show in 1957, Gleason dropped
the sketch entirely.
He resurrected his big-time variety show in 1962 and moved the production
permanently to Miami Beach in 1964. He sporadically revived The
Honeymooners when Carney was available. Since Meadows and Randolph
did not want to relocate, Sue Ann Langdon (Alice) and Patricia Wilson
(Trixie) took over as the wives. Meadows returned for a one-time
special reenactment of "The Adoption," a 1955 sketch in which Ralph
and Alice discuss their rarely heard feelings about parenthood.
During the 1966-67 season, Gleason decided to remake the "Trip to
Europe" musicals into color spectaculars with forty new numbers.
Sheila MacRae and Jean Kean were recruited for the roles of Alice
variety show ended in 1970, but he was reunited with Carney and
Meadows for four one-hour Honeymooners specials during the late
1970s. The specials, broadcast on ABC, revolved around such family
celebrations as wedding anniversaries, Valentine's Day, and Christmas.
With Jean Kean as Trixie, The Honeymooners remained two childless
couples, the most basic of family units on television.
The filmed episodes of The Honeymooners were one of the great
financial successes in syndication. A local station in New York
played them every night for over two decades. The thirty-nine programs
with their almost ritualistic themes and incantatory dialogue inspired
cultic worship, most notably the formation of the club RALPH (Royal
Association for the Longevity and Preservation of the Honeymooners).
For years, the live sketches were considered lost. When The Museum
of Broadcasting discovered four complete variety programs featuring
the Kramdens and the Nortons, Gleason revealed that he had more
than eighty live versions in his Miami vault. He sold the rights
of the "lost episodes" to Viacom and the live Honeymooners found
an afterlife on cable television and the home video market.
Honeymooners remain one of the touchstones of American television,
enjoyable on many levels. Critics have compared the richness of
Gleason's Ralph Kramden to such literary counterparts as Don Quixote,
a character worthy of Dickens, and Willy Loman. Although The
Honeymooners did not tackle any social issues throughout its
many incarnations, the comedy evokes something very essential to
the national experience. The Kramdens and Nortons embody the yearnings
and frustrations of postwar, urban America--the perpetual underdogs
in search of a jackpot. When such producers as Norman Lear in
All In The Family or Roseanne in her own series want
to critique the flipside of the American Dream, The Honeymooners
has been there as a source of inspiration.
Kramden .................................Jackie Gleason Ed
Norton ................................................Art Carney
Alice Kramden ...............................Audrey Meadows
Trixie Norton ....................................Joyce Randolph
Jack Philbin, Jack Hurdle
HISTORY 39 Episodes
1955-February 1956 Saturday
8:30-9:00 February 1956-September 1956
James. The Jackie Gleason Story. New York: St. Martin's,
Jim. The Golden Ham: A Candid Biography of Jackie Gleason.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956.
Peter, and Bob Columbe. The Official Honeymooners Treasury.
New York: Perigee, 1985.
William. The Great One: The Life and Legend of Jackie Gleason.
New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Audrey. Love, Alice My Life as a Honeymooner. New York: Crown,
Donna. The Honeymooners' Companion. New York: Workman, 1978.
Donna, and Peter Cresenti. The Honeymooners Lost Episodes.
New York: Workman, 1986.
Gleason: "The Great One." New York: The Museum of Broadcasting
(now The Museum of Television and Radio), 1988.
Vince. Classic Sitcoms. New York: Macmillan, 1987.
W. J. Jackie Gleason: An Intimate Portrait of The Great One.
New York: Pharos, 1992.